Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?
New book by Hoover fellow recounts his experiences knowing JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Those alive when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news the president had been shot. For Hoover fellow Paul Gregory, then a 21-year-old college student at the University of Oklahoma, the day became particularly memorable – life-changing, even – when he saw television news footage of Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, being escorted into police headquarters.
“I know that guy,” he said to himself, confused and in disbelief. Gregory had gotten to know Oswald and his Russian wife Marina, whom he had taken Russian lessons with. For much of the summer of 1962, Gregory had been, outside of Lee’s family, the couple’s only friend. Gregory’s new book, The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee (Diversion Books, 2022) details a story he has kept largely private (with the exception of speaking to the authorities at the time).
Here, Stanford News talks to Gregory about what he knew of Oswald and how the assassination has captivated conspiracy theorists for over 60 years. Gregory is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and is a scholar of Soviet and Russian economics.
After the assassination, you and your family were able to remain beneath the radar; in their public records, the Secret Service referred to you as a “known associate” of Lee Harvey Oswald. Why share your story now?
My father and I were immediately known to the Secret Service by the night of the assassination. We did not want our association with a Marine deserter and avowed communist known in our community. Decades after the assassination, I still have no desire to tell my story, even among friends and colleagues. It was only when I became convinced that my account adds to the limited historical record did I sit down and write.
How did you get to know the Oswalds?
When Lee and Marina returned to Fort Worth in June of 1962, Lee thought he could get a job using his Russian language skills. My father, born in Siberia, taught Russian at the local library. Lee came to visit my father in his office to get a certificate of language proficiency. Lee invited my father to visit him and Marina at his brother’s house. As a Russian speaker (far from perfect), I went along and met Lee and Marina. Shortly thereafter, we visited them in their duplex, and we agreed that I would come regularly for language lessons from Marina (who spoke no English whatsoever). Thus began regular meetings until mid-September.
Much has been written and said about Oswald. How do your experiences shed new light on who he was and what he was like?
I show that Oswald had all the characteristics to kill a major political figure – the means, the motive, and the soul of a killer.
In the period from Oswald’s return to Texas with his wife Marina to their move to Dallas, I was the only one who broke through the cocoon in which Lee had Marina living. I saw them on a regular basis for conversation, shopping, and driving around Fort Worth. I observed Lee as a manipulative loner who concealed himself from others and guarded the strict boundaries he erected around his troubled marriage with Marina. Similarly, Lee maintained a barrier of secrecy around himself. He had the habit of deflecting questions about himself. They were his business and not for others to know. By inviting Lee and Marina to our house to introduce Marina to [other Russians living in Dallas] we unwittingly ended Marina’s isolation – to Lee’s distress.
There are several theories about who killed JFK, including the belief that Oswald did not do it. Why is JFK’s murder shrouded in so much mystery? Why do people think that Oswald was not his killer?
We cannot believe that history can be changed by a random set of circumstances. It’s hard for people to accept that a “little guy” – Lee’s mother referred to him as “the boy” – of no known accomplishments could kill the most guarded person in America on his own. This leaves two explanations for JFK’s murder. Either Oswald was a “patsy” or he was a willing cog in a well-organized conspiracy in which he was an unlikely “follower.” There is simply no way he could have pulled this off on his own, conspiracy theorists would say. Judging by the most recent polls, the American public still buys this story.
What do you think was Oswald’s motive for assassinating JFK?
Oswald dreamed of going into the history books where he had learned from his mother that he belonged. He wished to pay back society for not recognizing his exceptionalism. He wanted to punish Marina for her ridicule of his ideas and her scorn of his manhood.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is a shame that so few have carefully researched the material in the voluminous Warren Report, [a culmination of findings from the commission, chaired by then chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination], to understand the evidence which prompted the sole gunman conclusion. Instead, critics glom onto bits and pieces, and minor contradictions to build mountains out of molehills. Among the multitude of conspiracy theories is even one that places my father and me among the conspirators. The JFK assassination marks an end of national innocence; namely our readiness to accept the word of our most distinguished public figures. On the day the Warren Commission issued its report to the American people, two-thirds of the public believed its findings. Now that figure has dropped to one-third.